The forests of the Russian Far East are some of the most diverse in the temperate zone, providing a habitat for a wide range of species, including one of the world’s most magnificent predators – the Amur tiger. Yet this biodiversity hotspot is threatened.

Illegal logging is rife, driven by demand for inexpensive furniture. Logging roads provide access for poachers, leading to sharp declines in the populations of tigers and their prey. Authorized timber harvesting is not always better. Large-scale industrial exploitation is fed by continuous expansion into previously untouched old growth forests. Protection of key habitats for native species is practically nonexistent.

But FSC certification offers hope for the protection of large areas of high conservation value forests, and responsible management of extensive production forests in the region. FSC certified timber leases now cover 3.7 million hectares in Primorye and Khabarovsk Provinces, and the region's largest leaseholder hopes to achieve certification on another 6.5 million hectares. Certified companies have agreed to permanently exclude 125,728 hectares from logging and road building, and to adapt logging practices on a further 92,314 hectares to protect key habitat areas.

In this biodiversity hotspot, the delineation of high conservation value forests is a key benefit of FSC certification. Non-governmental organizations such as WWF Russia and Transparent World have used remote sensing and field verification to delineate large, roadless blocks of natural forests and help FSC certified companies develop management strategies. On the 49,000 hectare timber lease of Primorskiy GOK, 7.4 per cent of the territory was delineated as high conservation value forest, where timber harvesting and road building will be fully excluded. Another 3.5 per cent was identified as smaller-scale Specially Protected Habitat Zones, which contain rare vegetation communities or key habitat features such as riparian forests with Himalayan bear den trees. The company is adapting logging practices on a further 23 per cent of their territory to maintain a more natural forest structure and is increasing the use of natural regeneration.

"FSC certification has given us the leverage to convince forest leaseholders to forego logging in more than 100,000 hectares of old-growth forests,” says Denis Smirnov, Head of Forest Program, Amur Branch of WWF Russia. “These massifs provide habitat for the full range of native species in our region, including the Amur tiger.”

Korean pine-broadleaf forest at Primorskiy GOK (photo: Evgeniy Lepeshkin)
The Amur tiger (photo: Igor Zhorov)

Brian Milakowski, WWF Russia